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What is a CT scan?
Computed Tomography (CT) scan are special X-ray tests that produces cross-sectional images of the body using X-rays and a computer. CT scans also known as Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT).
Doctors use CT scans to:
- Diagnose muscles and bone disorders, such as bone tumours and fractures.
- Location of tumour and cancer
- Guide procedures such as surgery, biopsy and radiation therapy.
- Signs of heart disease, cancer etc.
- Internal bleeding, and injuries.
CT scan images can provide much more information than a do a plain X-ray. A CT scan has many uses. But it is particularly suited to quickly examine people who may have internal injuries from accidents or trauma.
How does the machine look like?
CT Scan Machine
A CT scanner is a large machine with a hole or a tunnel in the center. A movable examination table slides into and out of this tunnel.
In the center of the machine, X-ray tube and electronic X-ray detectors are located opposite to each other on a ring (gantry) which rotates around you. The computer in which the images are produced is placed in separate room.
How do I prepare for CT scan test?
- You should wear comfortable and loose-fitting clothes. The hospital staff may give you hospital gown during the procedure.
- Do not wear metal objects including eyeglasses, jewelry, dentures, and hairpins. Because the metal objects may interfere with the CT scan images. You may also have to remove hearing aids and removable dental works.
- The doctor may ask you to fast for several hours prior to the scan, especially if you have contrast CT scan.
- You must inform your doctor if you are taking any medications. Also, if you have a history of allergy especially to contrast dyes.
- Also inform your doctor of any recent illness or other medical conditions. This also includes heart disease, asthma, diabetes, kidney and thyroid problems.
- Women must inform their doctors if they are pregnant or are breast feeding.
On the day of scan:
- Some patients may have to drink contrast dye. Sometimes, the dye may be given as enema or injected. This improves the picture of some blood vessels or tissue.
- The patient needs to lie down on the scanner table. In most cases the patient need to lie down on their back facing up. However, sometimes they may need to lie facedown or sideways.
- The table moves quickly through the scanner to determine the correct starting position. Next, the table will move slowly through the machine during the exam.
- The technologist may sometimes ask you to hold your breath during scan so as to avoid taking blurry images.
- CT scan test lasts upto 30 minutes depending on the body part to be scanned.
- After the examination is complete, the technologist will ask you to wait. During this time they (technologist) determine if they need to take more images.
After the Exam:
- After the exam you may return to your normal routine.
- If you took contrast dye, you would receive special instructions from the technologist/ radiologist.
- Sometimes, the technologist may ask you to wait for sometime before leaving to ensure that you feel well after the exam.
- The technologist will ask you to drink lots of fluids. This is to help kidneys to remove contrast material from your body.
How is the contrast material given?
CT Scan with Contrast
A special dye called contrast material is needed for some CT scans. This highlights the areas of your body which the technologist is examining. The contrast material blocks X-rays and appears white on image. This helps emphasize the blood vessels, intestine or other body organs.
Contrast material can enter your body in different ways:
- Injection: Through the veins in your arms. This helps view your gall bladder, urinary tract, liver, blood vessels. You may feel warmth in your body after injection.
- Oral: You swallow the liquid that contains the contrast material. This helps view your esophagus or stomach. The drink may taste unpleasant.
- Rectal: the contrast material is inserted into the rectum to help visualize your intestines. The procedure may make you feel bloated and uncomfortable.
Who interprets the CT scan results?
A radiologist (physician) who has a training specifically to supervise and interpret the radiology examinations. They analyze the images and send a report to the referring doctor.
During a small child’s CT exam:
If an infant or a small child is having the CT scan exam, the doctor may recommend sedative to keep your child calm and still. Any movement in the body may blur the images. Ask your doctor how best to prepare your child for the exam.
What are the benefits of CT scan test?
- CT scan is painless, noninvasive.
- It can present bone, blood vessels and soft tissues at the same time.
- Provides very detailed images of many types of tissues as well as lungs, bones and blood vessels.
- They are fast and simple. In emergency, they show internal injuries and bleeding to help save lives.
- It is cost effective imaging tool for wide range of clinical problems.
- Less expensive than MRI.
- No radiations remains in the patient’s body after CT scan.
- No side effects of the X-rays.
Risks of CT scan:
- During CT scan, you are exposed to more radiation than during plain X-ray. This radiation has a chance of increasing the risk of cancer.
- Women should always inform their doctors or technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant. The doctor may recommend another exam such as ultrasound or MRI to avoid the risk of exposing fetus to radiation.
- Nursing mothers should wait for 24 hours after the contrast material injection before resuming breast feeding.
- However, the risk of severe reaction from contrast material is rare.
- Most reactions are mild and result in rash and itchiness. Tell your doctor if you ever had a reaction from the contrast material.